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Intelligence: Definition, Theories

At first glance, it seems clear what intelligence is. But trying to define it is not easy at all. Intelligence is not the only, simple and clearly limited function of the human brain. It consists of a variety of different psychic activities that go without clear limits from one to the other functions of the psyche. Therefore, which component is given the highest importance, that is how intelligence is defined.

Here are some of the most popular definitions:

Intelligence is the ability of the individual to use abstract thinking, to use abstract concepts to solve various problems.

Terman L M., Merrill M. A.: Measuring intelligence

Intelligence is the sum or total ability of the individual to act usefully, to think reasonably and successfully in his or her environment.

Wechsler D.: The measurement of adult intelligence

Intelligence is the ability to use personal experience to adapt to new situations.

Goodenough F.: Measuring intelligence with the Goodenough-Harris Drawing Test

Intelligence is a sensitivity to problems, a thinking ability that one successfully manages in emerging situations.

Bujas Z.

Intelligence is emphasized in human reactions and the way they deal with difficulties and life problems in emerging situations, where neither their instinct nor the prior knowledge help them. Intelligent behavior differs from many reactions in its adaptability to change when one reaches a conclusion in a situation of emergence, immediately, not after more of the same or less similar situation.

According to Bujas Z. these are the three main thought operations that participate more or less in any intellectual reaction:

  1. Understanding the problems
  2. Constructive imagination in solving problems
  3. The criticality in choosing the right solution

That is why most psychologists, in defining intelligence, put human ability to use their experience and adapt to new situations. But they differ in the theories of how human intelligence is structured, what it is composed of, and which elements can be broken down.

Thorndike E L: The measurement of intelligence, divides intellectual functions into three groups:

  1. Abstract intelligence – the ability to use terms
  2. Mechanical intelligence – the ability to handle specific objects and materials
  3. Social intelligence – the ability to successfully interact with other people

Thorndike E.L. reveals several factors in intelligent human behavior:

  • Ability for spatial orientation
  • Ability to observe
  • Ability to use numbers and words
  • Memory
  • Ability to inductive and deductive thinking
  • Ability to reason

According to Spearman C.: General intelligence, among all human intellectual reactions reveals the presence of a common, general psychological (G-factor), a kind of “mental energy”. The intensity of that factor depends on the capacity of one’s intelligence. But besides the G factor, there are various other special factors (S-factors), according to which individual intelligence differs not only quantitatively but also qualitatively.